The vibrato still sings

My recent 100 favourite albums posts inevitably allowed many of my favourite musicians and bands to slip through the cracks. In order to pay them the respect they deserve, and also to perhaps introduce readers of this blog to some new listening experiences, from time to time I’ll be featuring one of them.

I feel very lucky to have my formative musical years quite firmly placed in the mid to late 1960s. In a nutshell, pop and rock music was then very much steeped in the blues. I suppose it all really kicked off for me with the Rolling Stones. I was starting to play guitar when I first heard them, and having heard a strange sound on one of their records, which a guitar playing friend informed me was a ‘bent’ note, I was up and running; listening to records with the guitar handy and working out pentatonic scales and licks for myself.

Chief amongst my listening around that time was John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers. If anyone deserves the title of Godfather of British Blues it’s Mayall. Sure, Alexis Korner was a very influential player and bandleader but when you think who passed through John’s bands and what they went on to do, he has to be the Daddy of ‘em all!

Naturally, as an aspiring guitarist, it was Mayall’s axemen who caught my attention. Starting with Eric Clapton and the seminal ‘Beano’ album he attracted some fabulous players. After Clapton came Peter Green, who went on to form Fleetwood Mac before succumbing to drugs and mental illness. Then after Greeny came Mick Taylor and he’s the subject of this piece.

Mick Taylor MICKTaylor Mick with a fan

Having sat in for Clapton at one gig the very young Mick Taylor (15 at the time, I believe) missed out to Green as Slowhand’s successor but got the job after Green left to form Fleetwood Mac.

Blessed with a beautiful wide but controlled vibrato and a creative way of putting licks together, Mick fitted into the Mayall band seamlessly and responded very well to the increasingly rock-based direction that Mayall was taking. With less and less reliance on 12 bar blues the band began playing some adventurous material and John seemed quite happy to let Mick stretch out and take extended solos. Not much of this work exists to hear today, but the two albums that Mayall recorded (rather poorly it has to be said) at live gigs are still available.

‘Diary of a Band Volumes 1 & 2’ have some fantastic playing from Taylor on them. In particular, ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ has some soaring slow blues guitar from him which still raises the hairs on my neck when I hear it and the instrumental medley of ‘Anzio Annie/Snowy Wood/The Lesson’ has less structured playing with lots of feedback and space and Mick showing you how sometimes not playing is the best thing to do for the music.

Above all, Taylor has always had tone – a sound combined with a feel that makes every note count.

The studio albums with Mayall – ‘Crusade’, ‘Bare Wires’ and ‘Blues From Laurel Canyon’ all have plenty of superb examples of Mick’s very precise but exciting playing.

Of course, a call from the Stones to come and join them caused Taylor to leave Mayall and embark on a stint with the band that produced, in my view at least, their finest hour both live and in the studio. With Keef chording and riffing away behind him, Mick’s fluid guitar worked really well and the classic albums ‘Sticky Fingers’ and ‘Exile’ have many great examples of the interplay between the two.

Unfortunately the best example of the Stones live from this era is unreleased, although the recording is top quality. The benefit gig at Brussels for the Nicaraguan earthquake victims (organized by Jagger’s wife Bianca) was recorded, broadcast and subsequently bootlegged.

It’s an amazing recording of the Stones at their peak and is a ‘must hear’ for anyone with the slightest interest in rock music. Fortunately it’s readily available on the internet. Usually called ‘A Brussels Affair’ it can be found on all manner of torrent sites and music blogs.

Get it!

Now!

Although the truth has never really been revealed, Mick seems to have had the shit end of the stick as far as songwriting credits are concerned. Only receiving one co-credit with Mick ‘n’ Keef – ‘Ventilator Blues’ on ‘Exile’ – although claiming far more, Taylor left the Stones in 1973 with a smack habit (since kicked) and from that time to this – although playing in Bob Dylan’s band, with Jack Bruce, Mike Oldfield and many, many more luminaries, releasing several solo albums and gigging all over the globe – he’s languished in increasing obscurity.

I can’t for the life of me understand why.

When you consider his peers today, Taylor still offers originality and a freshness to his playing that they mostly lack…

Clapton – pumping out the same old same old with all the passion of a dead slug…

Green – really not the full shilling and incapable of playing with the sensitivity he once had…

Page – Led Zeppelin then nothing until…er…Led Zeppelin and currently inactive as far as I can see…

In fact, it’s only Jeff Beck from that era who still seems to be prepared to take chances and try new things.

Apart from Taylor, that is.

I have many (about 150) bootlegs of solo Taylor live – from the mid 1980s to the present day. He’s evolved into a quite stunning player. Throwing in licks that someone like Clapton couldn’t manage to even think of whilst stuck inside his pentatonic prison and combining standard fingering and slide often in the same line, Taylor is today a quality player who still has a great deal to offer anyone who loves rock and blues guitar.

It’s only speculation, but my best guess on why Mick Taylor isn’t a bigger name today is that his experience with the Stones soured him, and problems with various substances didn’t help this. Apparently, he’s writing his autobiography and it’s rumoured that he’ll ‘tell all’ as far as the Stones are concerned, so perhaps we’ll find out then what lies behind his relative obscurity.

Meanwhile, as ever, the music can do the talking. Get the Mayall and Stones albums with Taylor and also any live solo stuff you can. Bootlegs are freely available via certain torrent sites and I’ve even seen live boots on Usenet.

As someone once said of Taylor, ‘the vibrato still sings’ and it really does too.

To sum up, a fabulous player and one well worthy of any music fan or guitarist’s attention.

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6 Responses

  1. Uh, I think “Led Zepplin then nothing” is a bit disingenuous. ;o)

  2. Page pre-Zeppelin – fantastic, I agree.

    Page with the Yardbirds – not too shabby, either.

    Page with Zeppelin – not my absolute favourite band, but produced some tracks which rank among my all time faves.

    Page post-Zeppelin – The Firm…Coverdale Page…Page and Plant…

    I rest my case!

  3. He wasn’t too bad when he played with The Black Crowes – certainly better than some of his substance-influenced late Zep performances.

    As I grow older and perhaps wiser, I see very little correlation between talent and fame in music, although the two can on occasion go together. There are loads of other factors involved, which I am sure you appreciate.

  4. I would be interested in your take as a guitar player on Tylor’s style. The color notes he adds, which notes he bends, his tone (especially that otherworldly tone on Dylan’s Real Live: ‘Masters of War’ and ‘I and I’). Thanks.

  5. Sam, if you’re prepared to wait a short while, I’ll blog again about Taylor and include my thoughts on his playing – focusing on the tracks you mention.
    Many thanks for your interest!

  6. Yes I definitely will be waiting in anticipation! Taylor’s playing on that Bob Dylan tour should be included in Guitar Hero. You probably have some of the bootlegs: another of my favs is his final solo on All Along the Watchtower. The May 29 version. Just from another universe!

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